SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
Introducing the grumpy Dean of Newcastle!
The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, writes…
Right from the outset you know some days are going to be annoying. The opposite to the curate’s proverbial egg everything seems at least ‘bad in parts’, or at least that’s how it feels. The dog doesn’t want his early morning walk in the dark and rain (neither do I) and in protest refuses to do what the walk is premised on. Cold and wet you return and promptly spill the morning coffee, you miss the Metro …. by a few seconds because the ticket machine falters! STOP.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this new day!
I arrive at the Cathedral to see that we have had some unwelcome visitors overnight. During the last week the builders have taken a lot of trouble placing brand spanking new protective hoardings around the Cathedral. I made a big thing with them about wanting the Cathedral to look as smart as possible during the works and they have been very diligent in their response (thanks HPR). In the next couple of weeks, we will have some really quirky art work done by some local schools to cover the metal and wooden hoardings – all very exciting, I’ll post a picture when they arrive. However, back to the bad hair day – this morning the first thing I notice coming from the Central Station Metro to join Morning Prayer is that some pesky visitor has left his mark on the boards. Bright red spray paint graffiti (in poor handwriting, I have to say, the old schoolteacher in me speaking here) telling the world (well, the waking city) through his tag that Tony has been around – to be frank I wish Tony had stayed at home or gone somewhere else.
[Reminds me of my favourite comment on the essence of good hospitality: ‘Making people feel at home when you wish they were!’]
I didn’t take a photograph of the ugly red splash and if I had I wouldn’t have posted it – Tony has had enough publicity from us. It was especially annoying because later in the morning we were due to welcome a visit from the high-powered Historic Environment Advisory Panel accompanied by the Lord Mayor. What followed (in what I said) would not make an encouraging (or appropriate) set of ‘responses’ for our morning liturgy: In truth as I took my seat in St George’s Chapel for Morning Prayer I wasn’t a happy bunny:
O Lord open our lips
And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
Now St George’s Chapel (of which I will share more on another day) has never really been a haven of silence, at least in my time. It is, however, a prayerful place and one that we use the most for midweek services – every day in fact. Close to (the so called) ‘bin alley’, or the back lane, of the Cathedral, our services are regularly interrupted by refuse and recycling vans. They leave their mark with daily noise – reversing alerts and clanging bin collections, shouts and laughter and the occasional rendition of ‘My old man’s a dustman!’ which all add some ‘sound-colour’ (does such an idea exist) to our everyday worship. And on three occasions in the last year ‘Mr Bin Man’ has taken chunks of the Cathedral wall with ‘him’ leaving only bits of his side-mirror in return! But to be honest we are well accustomed to these sounds by now and, if nothing else, they serve to pierce our prayerfulness with useful reminders that holiness cannot be sanitised from the big world. I have (perhaps over piously) a concern that we see prayerfulness as a kind if rural pastime, in need of large country houses filled with Mousey Thompson furniture, Laura Ashley drapes and set in idyllic green parkland. Not that I want to belittle or undervalue oases like our own splendid Shepherds Dene, they are wonderful. But if our faith is to make a real difference – to us and to our world – they can only provide sabbatical rest. We cannot afford escapism, we have to learn to carry with us a deep stillness into the hustle and bustle of life: life which for most of us is urban.
I first came to think about this when I came across wonderful book and a wonderful community. The book is called ‘A City Not Forsaken’ and the people, ‘The Jerusalem Community’. The Fraternities of Jerusalem were founded by Pierre-Marie Delfieux in Paris in the 1970s. Their roots are in the desert tradition and desert experience. Their Rule (as written, simply and beautifully in the book) and their daily worship is designed around contemporary city dwelling; their calling is to create an oasis of stillness, a ‘desert’ within the city, if you will. I used to pray with them (along with many hundreds of others) in the Church of St Gervais, behind the Hotel de Ville, when I lived in Paris in 1990. They bid the community
‘Work in the city, pray in the city, work and pray for the city, weep and sing with the city’
Inspirational words and a challenging call to spirituality for an urban Cathedral finding its way. But sadly, all too easy to forget when you are a grumpy Dean having a bad hair day! So, with Tony (the Newcastle Banksy NOT!) and the noise of the reversing bin van about to leave ‘Bin Alley’, I found a place in the Chapel to pray. As you probably guessed this was not the end! We have been aware of a gurgling noise in the radiators in the Chapel on a few occasions. Today it was loud(ish) and seemed like praying with a congregation of flatulants (is that another word I have made up?). I huffed and puffed but survived ….. as did everyone else. However, by the time I came to take the midday Eucharist things had got even worse. Added to everything else there was a loud high-pitched ringing – not an Angelus bell, I hasten to add – noise dominating the Chapel (an air lock in the pipes?), though the rumbling gurgling noise also continued unabated, and amid all this we had a congregation of mainly visitors. I apologised profusely and carried on.
The peace of the Lord be always with you.
Things can turn on a comment. One of the visitors in the congregation, a complete stranger offered the comment. It was simple but enough: ‘Thank you for the service,’ he said, ‘It was beautiful and the noise was no distraction at all!’ The Cathedral was surprisingly busy. It has amazed me that people have navigated their way in despite all the works and closures. The volunteers were buzzing, chatting enthusiastically to folk, the Hospitality Point was awash with coffee and the Mayor’s team were arriving and being kitted out with hard hats and high viz vests. Outside in Cathedral square as we began our tour I could see no graffiti – another Tony (the one from HPR, he who found the old penny) had already painted over it and put up some notices about considerate construction. The Mayor’s visit went well. Grumpiness evaporated, scarcity thinking was banished again, and again gratitude and abundance thinking began to flow. The world of the Cathedral remained the same; still noisy and messy, but somehow things had reconfigured, and amid the clatter that still small voice persisted, thank God.
Lighten our darkness Lord we pray
After Evensong I noticed Tony, the stone mason, still in hardhat and high viz jacket, in the south ambulatory.
‘I thought you’d be home by now’, I casually commented.
‘Been home already,’ he said, ‘and brought my young lad back. I wanted him to see where his dad is working. You see I just love that carving, the one over there. It’s to some old Bishop. I think its Italian in style. We caught the last bit of the choir singing too’
Tony’s can be different and good. So can the world. So can Cathedrals. So can you. So can I – even me!
Thanks be to God